Is it just me or does this job keep getting easier and easier the longer Stephen Harper runs the country? As an aboriginal person, and consequently one whose rights and issues are lowest on the Conservative totem pole, there’s generally enough to grouse about but when he starts mixing agendas it gets downright entertaining.
First off, there was absolutely no forward motion at Copenhagen. Now, as everyone knows, First Nation groups are big on the environment and even the presence of a native delegation refused to move the Prime Minister to action. It appears that as long as big business deepens Conservative coffers there’s no need to force them to reduce carbon emissions. There’s no need to act all apparently since there is no global warming crisis.
Then came the big charade. Harper and the Conservatives are going to lead the world on improving the lot of women and children. There was no mention of dollars or programs devoted to this high-minded goal but the party is nonetheless committed to seeing the world’s most marginalized population taken care of. From a seat in a regular living room that might sound wonderful.
But in the cracked and broken chairs of Canada’s First Nations communities it carries a lot less resonance. Harper never mentioned the high incidence of Inuit deaths at birth, or the abysmal rate of aboriginal infant deaths in Saskatchewan. He never mentioned the fact that most aboriginal women and children live below the Low Income Cut Off Line, which used to be called the Poverty Line. Not a word was said about training, education or child care.
Type 2 Diabetes among aboriginal women is four times higher than non-First Nation women. That the number of aboriginal sex trade workers is disproportionate, that 1 in 4 native women report being victims of domestic violence, and the shocking number of Aboriginal children in foster care should have been outlined in any statement to the world that you are a government that cares. There was no mention of any of those things, no mention because there are no problems behind a lily-white fence.
There was no mention of dollars allocated to the horrendous conditions at home. There was no mention of meetings with the Native Women’s Association of Canada or affiliated groups. There was no mention of the role of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is hearing graphic, disturbing and day-by-day stories of women and children in dire straits everyday. There was nothing said about the high numbers of missing aboriginal women right across the country.
Instead, Harper grandstanded about Canada’s record in Human Rights and its leading role in global change. He talked in smooth tones about his government’s vision and how they would share that vision with like-minded governments across the globe. Apparently, helping paint Joe’s garage gets a lot more attention than your own when you’re looking for a photo-op. But then, you learn to depend on a myopic media too.
Instead he waxed on about how Canada was going to lead the world in caring for women and children. Funny too, that while he made that pronouncement he left out the fact that his government has yet to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document which in itself directs governments to ensure the well being of aboriginal women and children. It’s a document that says explicitly the need to care for our most fragile, most vulnerable and in the end, most valuable generation.
Ironically, signing that document would show him to be a leading thinker in the care of the world’s most impoverished populations. But I guess when you’ve spent four years chopping off the financial foot of women’s groups it’s only savvy politics to boast about how you will lead the new parade to recognition, recompense and restitution even if it’s beyond the borders of your own country.
Sometimes this job is difficult when you see devastation like we saw in Haiti and all you have is words. It’s hard when you can only confront injustice with a strong phrase and a clarified vision. It’s also hard when you know that the truth is only a matter of listening and try as you might you can’t affect that. It’s hard when your elected officials are hard hearted and vain.
But it’s easy when you have politicians like Stephen Harper who become martinets and do as they choose, whether it’s closing the doors to Parliament without an explanation, letting big business and economics dictate the health of the planet or making huge pronouncements about change in the world – when their own hidden populations suffer and die and atrophy because it’s not politically expedient to change it.
You can change the world, Stephen, but you have to start at home.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, is out from
Doubleday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org